03 April 2009

Manga As Social History

Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) is one of the most popular Japanese shojo manga. It was made into a book on CD, a live action movie, and an anime (animated motion picture) series. It is a genre that roughly translates as romance aimed at girls, with many plotlines that Jane Austin would have been comfortable writing.

The original was published in a manga magazine (Margaret) that comes out twice a month, with Kamio Youko, the writer and lead illustrater called a mangaka, and her three assistants rarely more than a couple of months ahead of their deadlines and often just a couple of weeks ahead. Like a television series, the length of the entire series was subject to regular re-evaluation based upon popularity. Due to its popularity and good writing, this particular series evolves the usual plot lines with exceptional depth on a slow burn, because premature consumation of the relationships force the mangaka into a new and unproven product.

English language versions of both professionally published for profit in print, and made available online by multiple amateur teams in what is called a "scanlation" which manga publishers tolerate so long as it is not abused, in part because republication tends to lag serialized publication in magazines and don't have the convenience factor of republished print collections of a series. Few other Japanese media of any kind are both so tied to the time of their publication and so widely available in English translation. And, foreign correspondent coverage of Japanese affairs, with a few exceptions, like the writings of T.R. Reid, usually capture disasters, high politics and foreign policy issues, rather than social history.

While it is escapist fiction, it is also a product of its times that captures the concerns and feeling of the time it was written. Boys Over Flowers was begun in 1992 and continued for almost the entire duration of Japan's worst post-war recession, recounted in about 6500 illustrated pages. Like many shojo manga heroines, Tsukushi Makino, is a working-class girl living in then contemporary Japan (manga celebrates the working class and lower middle class characters to a greater extent than comparable American genre.) Our heroine's family deals with a frequently unemployed and underachieving dad, subpar housing arrangements, excess debt and a strained family budget throughout. The struggles are accentuated by the juxtoposition of her uber-rich peers at her private school, which she stuggles to pay for with part-time jobs and a strain on the family budget.

Also, in addition to the actual story, it is customary for mangaka to regularly break the third wall and offer only marginally relevant insights on their personal lives to readers. So there is a light meta-story to match the fictional one. This offers a slice of bohemian life to readers in addition to the main story lines.

The contemporary cultural trappings of the basic Japanese shojo romance framework (girl overcomes obstacles to bind herself to the right man of severa through mutual confessions of love, first kisses and ultimately sex and/or marriage) provide a sense of the hierarchy, conflicting duties, and daily trappings of life in what is without this window in, one the superficially most foreign of all the contemporary cultures on the planet to Americans, in this case, against the backdrop of a society reaching new heights of wealth divides and under economic stress.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Thanks for reading.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"The manga series ran continuously from October 1992 to September 2003, and was collected into 37 tankōbon volumes. In 1996, it received the Shogakukan Manga Award for shōjo.

Recently, the series has started to be released in a deluxe edition (larger pages and with all the color artwork from the magazine reproduced). The manga has been remade into 3 drama productions in Taiwan, Japan, and Korea (with a 4th rumored for China), along with one spin-off, 2 live action movies, 1 anime movie and also an anime series. Hana Yori Dango is the best-selling shōjo manga in Japan of all time (54 million copies in 2005)."

Per Wikipedia.